03 August 2007

Liverpool gets Toulouse

Tricky draw, but it could have been worse.

None of the British teams have it easy. Sparta Prague won’t be a walk in the park for Arsenal, Celtic will struggle against Spartak Moscow, and if Rangers comes through their second leg against FC Zeta, it looks like they’ll get the former Red Star Belgrade, Crvena Zvezda.

Toulouse finished 3rd in the French league last year, one point ahead of Bordeaux (who Liverpool beat 4-0 "on aggregate" in the two group stage games last year). Ligue 1 isn’t the Prem, Serie A or La Liga, but Toulouse isn’t some no-mark team. Their leading scorer, Swedish striker Johan Elmander, was one of the best forwards in the French league this past season. They’ve got their own Sissoko, Moussa (although he’s not related to Momo), and young LB Jeremy Mathieu is great on Pro Evo, but that’s about all I know about their squad.

I do think Maccabi Haifa last year was a trickier tie than this will be. Naturally, nothing’s ever certain in football, but there’s little doubt in my mind that Liverpool’s the better team. I’d rather see Liverpool play Toulouse, even though they’re a marginally tough team to play in the qualifying stages, than have to travel to, say, Kazahstan, Turkey, or Lithuania, even if it means they'd draw an easier team, especially with the game coming the weekend after the first leg.

It still somewhat bothers me is the away leg of the tie is first, and it’ll be 3 or 4 days before Liverpool hosts Chelsea. For a league game in August, that’s going to be an important one, and Liverpool may treat the Toulouse match differently because of it. But against Graz in 04-05 and CSKA Sofia in 05-06, Liverpool sealed the tie away from home, and was able to rest players for the Anfield leg. Let’s hope that happens here too.

Full 3rd qualifying round draw below. The games will be played August 14/15 and 28/29, actual dates determined probably later today. Ties involving British teams in bold.

FH Hafnarfjordur or BATE Borisov v Zaglebie Lubin or Steaua Bucharest
Tampere United or Levski Sofia v Astana or Rosenborg
Spartak Moscow v Celtic
Werder Bremen v NK Domzale or Dinamo Zagreb
FK Ventspils or FC Salzburg v Pyunik or Shakhtar Donetsk
Ajax v MSK Zilina or SK Slavia Prague
Valencia v Debreceni or IF Elfsborg
Genk or FK Sarajevo v Dynamo Kiev
Fenerbahce v Anderlecht
Rangers or FK Zeta v FK Crvena Zvezda or Levadia Tallinn
Toulouse v Liverpool
Benfica v FC Copenhagen or Beitar Jerusalem
Lazio v Dinamo Bucharest
Sparta Prague v Arsenal
FC Zurich v Sheriff or Besiktas
Sevilla v AEK Athens

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